7 Lessons From My First Ultra Marathon

It’s about the journey!

I ran my first ultra marathon of 100km this October. Here is the race report. I did this race just to experience whether The Fruitarian – Mike Arnstien, was right or not! He said in one of his talk in Woodstock Festival that you experience a spiritual awakening; that you can see God! I am an atheist and not that I wanted to see God but I wanted to have an experience of one of it’s kind. Well, there were others like Anton, Scott Jurek, Dean Karnazes to name a few, who motivated me to step in the foray of ultras.

I had run one marathon and a half marathon before I took a plunge in ultra marathon, and that too a 100km in first go. Many were aghast at my decision. My wife, in particular, remembered my condition after my first marathon. I was hobbling around for close to a week after the race. She kept reminding me of that.

So, I took adequate precautions while preparing for the 100km. I read and read and made plans of the training programme while I was in an official meeting. I chronicled my entire journey of preparations in my blog which you can read in the Running tab.

Over the period of 6 months of my training block, I learnt a lot and running a marathon distance on a weekend as part of my long run didn’t leave me exhausted. I was recovering quite well to my surprise, which I told my wife too. She just nodded. I guess she understood my recovering abilities.

After the event I contemplated my entire journey and figured out few lessons I need to keep in mind for preparing for the next ultra distance event. I must share my insight with you, hence this post.

  • Consistency

    What does consistency mean? It doesn’t mean running high mileage every day. It means to run or exercise in some form any day, even it is for 20 minutes. As ultra-runners, we geek out on mileage. I, while preparing for this race, couldn’t cross 90km week’s mileage. My body couldn’t just handle that kind of running at this stage.

However, I made sure to run almost every day with two days of rest on weekends or any day when I didn’t feel like running. But I always made sure the gap in running was not more than 3 days at a stretch. Also, in days of no running, I made it a point to get in some exercise in form of cycling, swimming or lifting weights or just plain walking around.

The consistency allowed me to make progress in my running and made me resilient and ability to recover from workouts better. So, be consistent and keep running and exercising.

  • Cross training

    Running itself is not enough. Running strengthens only your running muscles but to stay injury free one has to strengthen the other muscles to support the running muscles.

Cross training in forms of cycling, swimming, weight training, yoga, walking, aerobics etc are excellent to keep your body injury proof and avoid getting bored of running. Avoiding injuries during the training block is the key to toe the starting line. Getting injured during the race is plain bad luck. But starting the race without an injury is the key.

I used to do some cycling, swimming and weight training twice or thrice a week and I never got injured during the whole training block. Otherwise I am quite injury prone. So, get on with some cross training as long as it doesn’t leave you tired for you main workout i.e running. A simple cross training workout of 20 minutes is more than enough to keep your body and mind happy.

  • Rest

    Rest or recovery needn’t be stressed upon enough. By rest, it doesn’t mean lying on bed or couch and eating junk food. It totally has a different connotation. Rest should be seen as active recovery.

It means on “No run days”, recovering from the torture we have been putting our body through. Recovery means adequate sleep, foam rolling, stretching, eating nutritious food and just plain walking to keep the blood flowing in the legs.

I never had adequate sleep, thanks to my kid. However, I did try to get in some good food and relax mentally on my off days. The aim is to feel good and look forward to the day of running after rest day. Recovery also meant for me not to sit in office for too long. I could feel the tightness in my hammies after sitting for more than half an hour. So, I did my work mostly standing up. That also helped in toughing up my feet to endure the long hours of running.

Don’t underestimate the rest or recovery part. The syndromes of overtraining will start showing if you neglect the recovery part.

  • Nutrition

    Well, all those articles on nutrition, I don’t understand. It’s all gibberish to me. But I know this that inspite of all the experimenting with different kinds of food during my training, I still battled nausea and low blood pressure. I trained in a humid and cool place and raced in a hot weather environment.

Mom was right – EAT YOUR GREENS! Stocksnap

Figure out what works for you during the training runs. If you are unlucky, they might not work for you on race day. At that point, you need to improvise. Also, nutrition during the off time is also of paramount importance. I read a lot on food – eat this and not that, carbo depletion, paleo, vegan etc etc. But I understood this that no junk food to be eaten and eat as much as possible your greens and fruits. Also, supplements like Whey protein, Glutamine and multi vitamin tablets are necessary to further support the diet and give adequate fuel for the body to burn and build. This will protect your immune system, which is very fragile during these times.

And yes, how can I forget the BEER on weekends!

  • Most important run

Running consistently over the training block is necessary to prepare the body and mind for the journey over this long distance. However, I found myself wanting to run through the week but life happened sometimes! There were weeks when I could run only once or twice. So, I realised the long run on the weekend kept me up in the game.

The long run is where we can practice the race day situations, nutrition, hydration, shoes, socks, clothes etc. So, it becomes imperative to do this particular run in case we are short on time.

  • Motive

I lost my mother 3 days before the race and was in a dilemma to run it or not. It was a sentimental decision for me to run it as my mother wanted me to do it. On the other hand, I was still recovering from viral fever. I was in doubt whether or not I will be able to complete it.

But on race day, I somehow did it because I had a motive, an aim. Aim to finish it for my mom! The motive kept me going through the rough patches during the race and helped me overcome them. I may have still completed it because I had trained fairly enough for this distance but the viral fever had sowed the seeds of doubt in my mind. The psychological influence of my mom’s death was quite strong which in turn made my resolve stronger to finish the race. I also read this book called 10 Minute Toughness by Jason Selk( I will write a review soon on it) which gives a number of mental exercises to strengthen the resolve to do well in any event. That helped me a lot.

So, have a strong motive for your race. Even if your body fails you, your mind will take over and help you finish.

  • All is well

I had read in the numerous books on ultra marathon that there will be rough patches during the race and you will magically overcome them. I doubted it! I had doubts about how to spring back from dead in the race. But I did!

I battled low blood pressure at 60km mark. I had strong thoughts of dropping out from the race. I couldn’t run a step. I was feeling dizzy and felt like I would faint anytime. However, my pacer kept pushing me to drink electrolytes at regular intervals. At 65km, I crashed in the aid station tent and lied down for 10 minutes. When I got up, I was a changed man. I ran even stronger for the rest of the distance.

Then I realised whatever was written in those books was true. You do come out of rough patches. Just don’t lose hope. Have the motive guide you to the finish line.

I guess I made some sense in the above lessons. I surely will keep these in mind while preparing for my next ultra, which may happen next year in August. I applied to run in LaUltra, one of the toughest ultra marathon in the world. Hope the choose me!

Till then stay fit and keep running.

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Author: Neel

I am Neel and the creator of borN. I am an ultra marathoner, scuba diver, adventurer, writer and father of an extremely active child.

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